camera searches out and reveals complications of involvement or awareness
of which the characters themselves are frequently unaware–connections
which they themselves can't themselves participate in, or which (because
they are so painful and troubling) they may prefer to deny or decline.
Precisely because connections cannot be made by the characters themselves
(or made through the merging of their points of view with the viewer's),
it falls to the camera work and editing to make them instead, so that
they are not lost entirely. The camera work and editing tenderly carries
the expressive burden of what can't actually be expressed and shared in
the actual society of the characters. The camera work and editing lovingly
keeps alive possibilities that would otherwise not exist.
When, in the scene in which
Anders goes out to search for Johannes, the camera uncannily continues
panning left after Anders leaves the parlor, bizarrely proceeding to move
through the room in the absence of anyone in view, until it arrives at
Inger's door at the moment she opens it, Dreyer's photography is doing
just this. It is telling us of yet another relationship–of another individual
affected by Johannes' wandering and Anders' pursuit of him, of which neither
Johannes nor Anders is at the moment even aware.
The sliding, probing edges
of the slowly moving frame represent, as it were, the consciousness (and
conscience) of an ideal observer, searching out and revealing dependencies
and involvements of which the participants themselves may not even be
aware. One calls it an ideal consciousness because the camera represents
a consciousness which no individual may possess; a consciousness perhaps
more sensitive, more aware, more alert than that of any particular character;
a consciousness perhaps unobtainable and inexpressible within the practical
realities of the world.
The consciousness Dreyer cultivates
in a viewer is a very special one–one that deliberately denies us most
of the comforts that other films provide. The viewer is kept on edge perceptually
and psychologically. The moving camera and mobile, endlessly shifting
blockings prevent scenes and interactions between characters from being
brought into fixed focus, from congealing into static patterns. The moving
frame reveals ever-shifting and ever-increasing complexities of context
and relationship. Final positions are denied. Ultimate judgments won't
be made. The viewer is suspended in a state of endless process, change,
The continual readjustment
of camera and character positions is crucial to Dreyer's narrative project.
Dreyer prevents relationships of characters with each other, as well as
relationships of the viewer with the characters from stabilizing. His
style forces a viewer to attempt to live in an invigoratingly fluxional
state. It forces us to stay absolutely open–to entertain constantly revised
hypothesis and visions.
Like a videotape recorder erasing
the last used section of a tape as fast as it records new material on
it, Dreyer's moving frame is a machine for continuous acts of imaginative
displacement and replacement. (In the very largest sense, it is not too
much to say that the challenges and exhilarations of living in this fluxional
imaginative state is the subject not only of this film, but of all of
Dreyer's work.) The trailing edge of Dreyer's frame leaves behind characters,
backgrounds, and relationships as fast as the leading edge discovers new
The result is an adventure
of insecurity for the viewer, a voyage of discovery, an extraordinarily
heightened sense of living on a narrow margin between two moving edges–literally
living on the existential margin between the material being left behind
by the trailing edge and the material being revealed to view by the leading
edge. What Dreyer asks of us is a continuous responsiveness. Unable to
relax our attention, to recline into inherited relationships, fixed positions,
or final destinations, we must stay imaginatively on the move. To say
the obvious, Ordet is a film about change, growth, possibility;
but the preceding remarks should suggest the extent to which this commitment
is embodied in the very style of the camera-work and blocking itself.
The camera's travels represent
a commitment to endless exploration and discovery: a commitment to
expansion of perspectives and a widening of horizons. Dreyer's camera
on the qui vive embodies a standard of continuously enlarged
awareness and sympathy that is meant to remind us of the fallibility
of all fixed points of view, all "final" understandings. Dreyer tells
us that we must stay as mobile and alive to possibility as this moving
gaze in order to see the world adequately. We must learn to live in the
fluxions of ever-changing spaces and times. We must remain open and
to be surprised with what the frame will bring into view.
Dreyer imagines life as a fundamental
process of change and revision. Yet he also knows that everything in our
linguistic and social categories of understanding wars against this conception.
Every tendency of the characters and the viewers of his film (always excepting
Inger) is to fix, to rigidify, to substantiate and maintain abstract positions.
The challenge posed by the film is whether even an ideal viewer can succeed
in living in the flux in the way
his style recommends. His attempt
to depict states of imaginative energy in motion is Dryer's deepest challenge
to the conventions of realistic representation–which each of us has unconsciously
internalized, just as Anne Pedersdotter has internalized the very linguistic
and moral categories she seemed to be an exception to. Dreyer's goal is
to keep us (and his finest characters) in motion–perceptually and emotionally–against
all of the forces arrayed to stop our motion, to give us a destination
for development, to force us to lock ourselves into a fixed position.
Only in that state of motion and emotion is life and growth for Dreyer
and his figures.
Insofar as Dreyer's camera
represents a point of view with a superior sensitivity and awareness to
particular individual characters, we might be tempted to call it the point
of view of a God. But that would be a serious misreading of Ordet,
since the very point of Dreyer's camera is not the God-like omniscience
and effortlessness of this process of knowing, but the all too human expenditure
of energy and effort that it requires. Dreyer's god of the pan and track
is more like a careful, at times an even somewhat care-worn, man or woman
than a supreme deity.
The camera movements in Ordet
are not masterful and manipulative like Hitchcock's. The re-framings
are not tendentious and virtuosic like Welles'. They are diligent and
scrupulous acts of knitting persons together. They are slow and ponderous
at times. They are hesitant and tentative. They are deliberate and deliberative.
They make us aware of the work of weaving separated threads together,
slowly, conscientiously, diligently. Dreyer's careful camera does not
abstractly "know" or "see" relationships, so much as it gradually, haltingly
discovers them, meditates on them, slowly maps them out. Above all,
camera does not rise above time and space and human particularities,
foibles, and missteps, like a God, but makes its meanings in time and
the mess of human events like a human being. Dreyer's camera is a celebration
of the virtues of a doggedly human point of view rather than an Olympian
This page only
contains excerpts and selected passages from Ray Carney's Speaking
the Language of Desire: The Films of Carl Dreyer. To obtain the book
from which this discussion is excerpted, click